Forget about the evidence. Live your life.

I love photography. I am never far from a camera, and never quit looking for pictures. Sometimes I realize that whenever I’m out and about I automatically look for photos, no matter whether I am out shooting or not.

However recently I have been taking my camera out with me less in everyday life, and reserving my photography to specific times when I leave the house specifically to take photos.

Social media has most of us living in fear of losing the moment. We feel compelled to document our life in snapshots. In slices of reality that can decorate our Facebook Timeline.

In the ’60s Ray Davies (of the Kinks) sang that “people take pictures of the Summer, just to prove that it really existed”, but what would he sing now? Even if you don’t take your camera out with you, someone is always likely to have a smartphone which incorporates a camera good enough to produce magazine-quality prints. And they take it out. And we all need to stop until they get the right shot.

There is nothing wrong in wanting to keep photographic evidence of an event, but if we obsess over it too much, we give too much care and attention to the photo rather than actually living the experience.

I go about it by reaching a compromise of sorts. First of all I have set up specific times to go out shooting. When I’m traveling I will spend some quality time shooting exclusively, but then I will also leave the hotel without my camera (OK, I take my baby camera just in case) to simply absorb the place. Looking for a photo has its advantages, but in the process of looking for the perfect picture you lose touch of what’s going on around you.

At the end of the day it boils down to a simple choice. Do you want to spend the precious time we’re given living your life for yourself or do you intend to document it minutely to share with the rest of the world? If you’re playing with your kids in the park – what is more important, having 200 photos of them playing or actually playing with them? If you’re out drinking with friends, what do you want – memories of yourself enjoying it or spending the next morning ruing that you don’t have enough to come up with a Facebook album of the night out?

So what would I have you do? Ditch the camera, stop taking photos of what goes on in your life? Nope, that would hardly be practical. Set time aside for photos. The last time I went to a concert I shot a couple of frames of the artist, shot some video footage for posterity and then enjoyed the concert in its entirety. If I want more good photos or a full video I can always find some by rummaging around on the Internet. If I want to take good music photography I won’t do it at the concert of a band I loved.

Try it – spend less time thinking about how you’re going to preserve and share the memory and spend the rest of your time living your life as if you did not need evidence of the fun you had. As if you did not have to prove that the Summer really existed. I might be a bit extreme in this belief – I did not even want a photographer at my wedding.

And if you want to convince your friends you can have a good time on a night out, then take them out with you the next time you hit town. And when you’re standing in front of a stunning sunset, take your hands off the camera and use them to hold your better half’s hand. Breathe in and savour the moment through your own eyes, not through a lens.

Hotels on Pinterest – Is anyone doing it right?

PinterestWe’ve all been hearing a lot about what an amazing tool Pinterest is, how a mind-boggling number of people use it on a daily basis, how it’s growing at an explosive rate and how it is a wonderful generator of traffic.

For anyone who has been hiding away in a dark corner and has managed to avoid the above here’s my crude summary: Pinterest is a social platform where you Pin interesting things on the web and organize them into boards which you then share with the world.

In my books, the main selling point for Pinterest is its highly visual layout which allows sharing in a completely different way to other social networks. Since you can pin practically anything that tickles your fancy on the web (as long as it contains images), with Pinterest you can organise information into visually engaging, theme-based chunks in seconds. All without having any design know-how or special software.

For hotels, Pinterest can be a great tool. Some great uses include:

  • showcasing a hotel’s design credentials,
  • leveraging interest about a particular destination by being an online destination concierge,
  • flaunting what’s on in your city,
  • sharing photos from events,
  • showing what a wedding at your hotel could look like.

The possibilities are as vast as your creative streak. The crucial aspect here is inspirational content which has value for your target audience. Creating boards with brochures, flyers and in-your-face promotional material will not get you anywhere further than ignored.

So now that we’ve established that your hotel brand should be on Pinterest – are any hotels actually there and doing it right? Well, the straight answer is that very few are. While a growing number of brands are creating profile pages on Pinterest (*hotelname* – go on, check a few big boys out), most are still bare and undeveloped. Some, however, are getting it right, these are three:

What it’s about: Sharing guest pictures of Indigo Hotels around the world, neighbourhood guides for several destinations their hotels are in.
Does a great job of: Cross-selling destinations, showing they pay attention to, and appreciate what, guests post about their hotels.

Four Seasons Hotel
What it’s about: Engaging destination guides, wedding trends, travel gadgets, a budding board about the local music scene.
Does a great job of: Selling Austin, Texas, strengthening the right brand associations.

Hotel Gansevoort
What it’s about: A series of boards around a “Get” theme – Get Style, Get a room, Get around, Get involved, Get pics etc.
Does a great job of: Pushing the hotel’s style credentials, making you want EVERYTHING they pinned.

Whether this has convinced you to jump into the fray or just wait a while longer on the side-lines, here’s a parting thought: your current and future guests might already be there talking about you, can you afford not to listen?

Travel boards, design inspiration, bucket lists, must-dos are popping up all over Pinterest and your hotel is probably featured. Find out what’s been pinned from your website by going to*yoururl* (replacing *yoururl* with your hotel’s website address eg – you might be surprised.

By Greta Muscat Azzopardi

5 Ways Valentine’s Day can Cost Your Business

Today’s post is an article which has been published on Talk Tech to Me, GFI’s security blog. It examines a few ways in which Valentine’s day can cause businesses to lose money through reduced productivity and security risks which are enhanced on a day like tomorrow.

You can find the article here:

5 Ways Valentine’s Day can Cost Your Business

Sixties Music: A Personal Journey

I remember Little Steven stating in one of his shows that the ‘60s was the last decade in which the most popular music of the time was also the best music being made. Even though I was born thirteen and a half years after the decade was over, I have to admit that I agree with him completely since I am a big fan of music released in that era.

I was introduced to pop music from the flower power era at a very young age because my father was still in love with the music as we were growing up. I still remember this orange cassette tape he owned and played over and over again in his car. I can’t recall each and every song that was on it because it was an eclectic mix, however I used to sing along to “Downtown” and “Raindrops keep falling on my head”.

Getting back to them took me quite a while. One of my brothers always had a soft spot for ‘60s music, especially The Beatles and The Doors, but as a young boy I was quite ambivalent to music. I would listen to anything that came along without giving it too much importance. At thirteen, however, there were two defining moments. First was when I was given three CDs as a present: Help!, Please Please Me (both by the Beatles) and Bridge Over Troubled Water (by Simon & Garfunkel). I didn’t own a CD player but listened to them repeatedly on my computer till they were burned through.

The next was a long-haul flight to New York, having taken no form of entertainment on a plane which had a couple of TVs at the start of each group of seats. The plane, did, however have a selection of music you could tap into by plugging in a set of headphones to the jack on the side of the seat. The channels only had numbers, but I remember hearing Downtown (again) and stopping on that channel. It had ninety minutes of ‘60s pop blasting through on loop, but I spent all the 18 hours of flight time (there and back) stuck to this channel, falling in love with one song: “Where do you go to my Lovely”, by Peter Sarstedt.

Following that trip I was completely in love with ‘60s music and have spent my life going from one band from that era to the next ever since. Some have been pop acts, others have been rock and some folk. Somewhere or other, however, there is always the same connection – they started off in the sixties. In the past two to three years I have listened to quite a few modern bands and electronic acts, but I always feel as if I’m walking back home when I hear something from the ‘60s.

Today, for example, we had around four hours of driving to do and, as we tend to do whenever we rent a car abroad, we stopped at a service station for a coffee and bought a compilation box-set of CDs with music from the ‘60s. Having seen my fair share of them, I am always amazed at how similar these collections can be, given that there is over a decade of music to condense into around 100 songs. But give or take a few you know that you’ll have a core of about 30 – 40 songs present on each and every one of these compilations.

We spent the entire drive oohing and aahing at every new song, singing along to all of them (my father in better tune) and being a general nuisance to my wife, mother and sister sitting in the back seat. Oh the good old days.

(#31 of 366 X 2012 project)

The Secrets of Effective Writing

Y U NO...The internet is a brilliant medium for too many reasons to list, but giving a voice to so many people must surely rank up there among the top bonuses.

There are thousands of formats and mediums to publish yourself on, so there is really no excuse not to be writing about a subject you are knowledgeable about. In fact, well-written articles are some of the best ways to build a solid reputation online.

There is one major drawback though. No one moderates what is being written and published and as a result the general level of written English has deteriorated dramatically. Nowadays you do not need to be an exceptional writer or have something very interesting to say to get published.

Most businesses try to save a buck by handling content creation themselves and, as a consequence, the number of web sites and blog posts that are riddled with horrible grammar is staggering. What most people writing don’t realise it that most of us (and most of their potential clients) can tell an amateurish piece from a well-written one, even if we are not all professionals.

If you are writing for your own business or on behalf of someone else’s business, it is imperative to have flawless grammar. The quality of the material you present reflects your company’s image as much as a clean office, a smart uniform or your brand identity. Clients and the press alike will build their impressions based on what they read about you, so when you put poor-quality material out there yourself, you are communicating an air of mediocrity. I remember working in a newsroom where we received dozens of press releases every day. We used to simply ditch the poorly-written ones and publish the interesting ones which did not need lots of grammatical corrections – it made our lives much easier.

Every problem, however, breeds an opportunity. The more bad writers there are out there, the more you will stand out if you can write well. I have seen quite a few businesses flourish online simply because they could put themselves in their clients’ shoes and communicate effectively.

There are a few tips to keep in mind if you intend writing yourself. The first, and probably most important one, is to edit brutally. Hemingway is said to have believed in writing drunk and editing sober. It might not be wise to take him up literally on that, but my advice is to write what you mean to say in a stream of consciousness and then read it over and over again, fixing it as you go along.

Ask a friend or relative to read your articles and suggest ways to improve them. If you don’t have someone you can trust enough to help you, find someone online. There are many friendly writers on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ who would be willing to give you their input. If that fails too, you can find websites which can connect you to proof-readers all over the world.

Quality is not merely about grammatical correctness though, if you write something well but do not take the time to understand the wants and needs of your reader, then you have failed just as miserably. If you are writing on behalf of a business then take a step back, look at what you want to get out of the article and imagine you are the reader for a bit. If you’re selling a car with some special gadget that saves fuel, the manufacturer might be very excited about it and would want you to write all about the way that gizmo works. Your average reader, however, would be far more interested in simply learning that the car will be more efficient, and possibly by how much.

(#23 of 366 X 2012 project)